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LaDainian Tomlinson leads Hall of Fame's 2017 semifinalists

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Out of 94 modern-era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, 26 semifinalists have survived to the next phase of the selection process. Gil Brandt ranks all 26 according to who he thinks has the best chance to reach Canton, presented below in reverse order.

The next cut-down (to 15 finalists) will be in early January; be sure to vote on who you think should make the cut. For more on senior finalist Kenny Easley, click here; for more on contributor finalists Jerry Jones and Paul Tagliabue, click here.

Missing the cut:

Hall of Fame voting

26) Clay Matthews, linebacker (Cleveland Browns, 1978-1993; Atlanta Falcons, 1994-96): As the younger Matthews continue the family's NFL dynasty, the brother of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews (and the father of current Packers linebacker Clay Matthews) could extend the Matthews' Hall presence. The Browns' first-round pick in 1978 went on to rack up 1,561 tackles and become a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro. Matthews is also the oldest player in NFL history (40 years, nine months and seven days) to have registered a sack.

25) Roger Craig, running back (San Francisco 49ers, 1983-1990; Los Angeles Raiders, 1991; Minnesota Vikings, 1992-93): The college fullback became a great running back and receiver in the NFL.

24) Karl Mecklenburg, linebacker (Denver Broncos, 1983-1994): The former 12th-round pick earned six Pro Bowl nods and compiled 79 sacks and 1,104 tackles, eventually landing in the Broncos' Ring of Fame.

23) Mike Kenn, offensive tackle (Atlanta Falcons, 1978-1994): Fun fact: The five-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro weighed less than 200 pounds coming out of high school.

22) Kevin Mawae, offensive lineman (Seattle Seahawks, 1994-97; New York Jets, 1998-2005; Tennessee Titans, 2006-09): The eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro was one of the better offensive linemen to ever lace 'em up.

21) Darren Woodson, safety Dallas Cowboys, 1992-2003): The Cowboys' all-time leading tackler -- who is in the team's Ring of Honor -- when he retired, Woodson won three rings and played for five different coaches during his time in Dallas.

20) Jimmy Johnson, coach (Dallas Cowboys, 1989-1993; Miami Dolphins, 1996-99): Johnson two Super Bowls in Dallas and finished his nine-year career with 89 victories total (including playoffs).

19) Chris Hinton, offensive lineman (Baltimore Colts, 1983; Indianapolis Colts, 1984-89; Atlanta Falcons, 1990-93; Minnesota Vikings, 1994-95): Picked fourth overall by Denver, then shipped to Baltimore as part of the John Elway trade, Hinton went on to become a seven-time Pro Bowler and one-time first-team All-Pro, earning a spot in the Colts' Ring of Honor.

18) Hines Ward, wide receiver (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1998-2011): Selected in the third round with a compensatory pick in 1998, Ward suited up for 217 regular-season games over 14 years in Pittsburgh -- the second-highest totals in both categories in franchise history. Ward ranks 13th in the NFL in catches (1,000) and is tied for 15th in receiving touchdowns (85).

17) Jason Taylor, defensive end (Miami Dolphins, 1997-2007, '09, 2011; Washington Redskins, 2008; New York Jets, 2010): Taylor played in 233 regular-season games, earning Pro Bowl honors six times, along with three first-team All-Pro nods. The 2006 Defensive Player of the Year is tied for sixth overall among the NFL's career sack leaders (he has 139.5).

16) Isaac Bruce, wide receiver (Los Angeles Rams, 1994; St. Louis Rams, 1995-2007; San Francisco 49ers, 2008-09): Bruce and "Greatest Show on Turf" running mate Torry Holt -- who I like to make it as a finalist this year -- both belong in the Hall, but it would be a rarity to have two guys who played the same position on the same team make it through at the same time, let alone in a year when yet another Ram (Kurt Warner) will have a high-profile candidacy.

Finalists:

15) Edgerrin James, running back (Indianapolis Colts, 1999-2005; Arizona Cardinals, 2006-08; Seattle Seahawks, 2009): The 12th-leading rusher in NFL history (12,246 yards) won the 1999 Offensive Rookie of the Year award and helped put Peyton Manning and the Colts over the top, in terms of becoming an elite offensive unit.

14) Don Coryell, coach (St. Louis Cardinals, 1973-77; San Diego Chargers, 1978-1986): The hugely influential passing guru won 120 games (including playoffs) in 14 NFL seasons.

13) Ty Law, cornerback (New England Patriots, 1995-2004; New York Jets, 2005, '08; Kansas City Chiefs, 2006-07; Denver Broncos, 2009): Law is tied for the most picks in Patriots history (36) and is the all-time franchise leader in pick-sixes (six). The five-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro also picked Peyton Manning off three times in the 2003 AFC title game.

12) Alan Faneca, offensive line (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1998-2007; New York Jets, 2008-09; Arizona Cardinals, 2010) Outstanding in both pass protection and run-blocking, Faneca was a nine-time Pro Bowler and six-time first-team All-Pro. He also made the All-Decade team of the 2000s.

11) Brian Dawkins, safety (Philadelphia Eagles, 1996-2008; Denver Broncos, 2009-2011): The second-round pick played in 224 regular-season games as a fierce defender on the ground and in the air -- see: 28 forced fumbles and 37 interceptions.

10) Steve Atwater, safety (Denver Broncos, 1989-1998; New York Jets, 1999): The first-round pick went to eight Pro Bowls and earned two first-team All-Pro nods. He also started every game he played in during his 10 years in Denver.

The best chance to make it in 2017:

9) Joe Jacoby, offensive tackle

Washington Redskins, 1981-1993

Hall of Famer Randy White told me Jacoby -- who went to four Pro Bowls and played on three Super Bowl-winning teams -- was the best offensive tackle he played against. Here's a twist of fate to consider: I was with the Cowboys when Jacoby went undrafted in 1981, and we wanted to sign him, but the guy we sent to offer him a deal mistakenly prioritized signing a nearby Eastern Kentucky prospect instead, and we missed out.

8) Terrell Davis, running back

Denver Broncos, 1995-2001

In his first four NFL seasons (from 1995 to '98), Davis ran for 6,413 yards, caught 152 passes, scored 61 rushing and receiving touchdowns and won two Super Bowls -- he was the best back in the game for that period of time. Like Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, Davis was a brilliant back whose career was cut short by injury.

7) Morten Andersen, kicker

New Orleans Saints, 1982-1994; Atlanta Falcons, 1995-2000; 2006-07; New York Giants, 2001; Kansas City Chiefs, 2002-03; Minnesota Vikings, 2004

The NFL's all-time leaders in points scored (2,544) and field goals made (565) was way ahead of his time in terms of the mechanics of kicking. At 47, in his 25th year in the NFL, Andersen made an amazing 89 percent of his field-goal tries (25 of 28).

6) Tony Boselli, offensive tackle

Jacksonville Jaguars, 1995-2001; Houston Texans, 2002

The second overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft allowed 15.5 sacks over seven years in Jacksonville -- that translates to fewer sacks allowed per play than Hall of Famers Orlando Pace, Randall McDaniel, Gary Zimmerman and Willie Roaf. Boselli was named to five Pro Bowls and was part of a Jaguars team that went to the playoffs in four of its first five years of existence, with two of those trips ending in the AFC title game.

5) Torry Holt, wide receiver

St. Louis Rams, 1999-2008; Jacksonville Jaguars, 2009

The first-round pick posted six consecutive seasons of 1,300-plus yards and finished his career with 13,382 receiving yards (16th all time) and 74 receiving touchdowns (34th). He was a classic route runner with great hands. Holt and Bruce essentially functioned as the No. 1 and No. 1a receivers in St. Louis, and both are deserving of spots in the Hall. However, the edge goes to Holt.

4) John Lynch, safety

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1993-2003; Denver Broncos, 2004-07

The third-round pick -- who was also drafted as a pitcher by MLB's Florida Marlins -- developed into a nine-time Pro Bowler and one of the keys to the Bucs winning Super Bowl XXXVII. Lynch was equally good against the run and the pass (26 interceptions).

3) Kurt Warner, quarterback

St. Louis Rams, 1998-2003; New York Giants, 2004; Arizona Cardinals, 2005-09

Warner's backstory as a grocery store employee and Arena Football League gunslinger has become the stuff of legend, but I can tell you it was shocking to see him emerge as a quarterback capable of taking three teams to the Super Bowl (winning once) and capturing two NFL MVP awards. It might be hard to believe, but the man with the 10th-best career passer rating in NFL history (93.7, better than Joe Montana's 92.3) was once an undrafted rookie who couldn't survive Packers training camp. And now he's on the doorstep of the Hall of Fame.

2) Terrell Owens, wide receiver

San Francisco 49ers, 1996-2003; Philadelphia Eagles, 2004-05; Dallas Cowboys, 2006-08; Buffalo Bills, 2009; Cincinnati Bengals, 2010

Owens was a guy whose size and speed made him very hard to stop -- as evidenced by his elite career totals. He ranks second in receiving yards (15,934), seventh in receptions (1,078) and third in receiving touchdowns (153). Not bad for a third-round pick out of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

1) LaDainian Tomlinson, running back

San Diego Chargers, 2001-09; New York Jets, 2010-11

For a snapshot of what made Tomlinson such a force, consider his 2006 season, in which he ran for a league-high 1,815 yards and set single-season records for rushing touchdowns (28) and total touchdowns (31), both of which still stand. That season, Tomlinson won both the Offensive Player of the Year award and the MVP award, winning the latter in a landslide over fellow vote-getters Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. The all-time leading rusher in Chargers' history (12,490 yards in nine seasons) ranks highly on the historical leaderboards: fifth in rushing yards (13,684), second in rushing touchdowns (145), third in total touchdowns (162) and fifth in yards from scrimmage (18,456). His style of running featured a jump-cut that made it very hard for people to tackle him.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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